POSTSCRIPT / August 20, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Be watchful of likely last-minute ‘pabaon’

TRANSPARENCY: After more than eight years in power, President Gloria Arroyo should acknowledge the fact that she has only nine months left till her successor is sworn in at noon of June 30, 2010.

Hounded by unprecedented unpopularity, Ms Arroyo could still gain some pre-departure sympathy by being more transparent and less arbitrary in her last-minute official acts.

Out of delicadeza and good faith, she should, for instance, let the public know all plans to award contracts with a tag price of over P100 million instead of springing on us a fait accompli that stinks.

This will help disabuse the minds of the people that a virtual lame duck is busy cleaning up the cupboard before leaving, or that her contractor-cronies are packing up some “pabaon” (sendoff gift) for her looming departure.

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ARTFUL INSERTIONS: That concerns commercial contracts. In the field of art, it should not be said either that the President is rushing National Artist awards for friends who have been of great help to her in the arts as instruments of politics.

The newspapers would be carrying by now the details of a petition filed yesterday with the Supreme Court by disgruntled artists and cultural groups questioning some of this year’s National Artist awards given by the President.

They asked the court to restrain the President, accusing her of abuse of discretion when she disregarded the list of nominees and inserted her favorites. (The case recalls the President’s frustrated attempt to pad the recent list of nominees to the Supreme Court.)

I doubt if the SC could stop the President on a matter of discretion where grave abuse is hard to prove. Although there are criteria, appreciation of the body of works of an artist is very subjective.

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INSIDE JOB: The situation of Cecilla Guidote-Alvarez, executive director of the National Commission for Culture and Arts, is awkward. She heads the same body that, together with the Cultural Center, conducts the final screening and nominates the awardees.

Alvarez has significant achievements in her field. But since she was not nominated and she heads one of the two nominating bodies, she should have declined the award by her Palace patroness. Nobody likes inside jobs.

The (her) problem is that the next president may not be as appreciative of Alvarez and her contributions to the politics of art. Her last-minute insertion into the roll of awardees looks to some observers as another midnight act of a departing president.

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TELL THE PEOPLE: President Arroyo should level with the people and explain why she insists on talking peace with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. If there are pressures being brought to bear on her, she should confide to the people.

It has been amply demonstrated that the objective of the MILF is to carve out an independent Bangsamoro from the Republic. Their main weapon is violence. What is more, they do not represent the majority of peace-loving Filipino Muslims.

I even doubt if they consider themselves Filipinos. Ask them.

Yet Malacanang keeps talking with them. This anomaly should be explained.

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VOX POPULI: As reported by Philippine STAR correspondents, mayors from all over the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao are warning that their constituents might reject any peace agreement with the MILF signed without their consent.

ARMM Solicitor-General Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi said “resuscitating” the Memorandum of Agreement on ancestral domain, which was put on hold after the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, could spark an “upheaval” in Mindanao.

Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan said town and city mayors in the ARMM must be represented in the peace talks. He is absolutely right.

Saying that the people in the region support the peace process, he added that “it is only on the need for extensive consultation with local sectors on the GRP-MILF talks that we are noisy about.”

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FORCE OF ARMS: At a dialogue with mayors at the Maguindanao provincial capitol of Sharif Aguak, chief government negotiator Rafael Seguis assured ARMM residents that they would be consulted on all issues and concerns before any peace agreement is signed.

We submit that that is not enough. Officials and residents of the ARMM should not only be consulted or told after the fact. They should be made participants in all stages of the negotiations.

Local officials of ARMM, which was created pursuant to the Tripoli Agreement, are duly elected. They have a legal mandate. In contrast, MILF negotiators simply usurped the function of spokesman or representative of Filipino Muslims.

The basis of the MILF’s ascendancy is its ever-escalating weaponry and capacity for violence. Add to this the acquiescence of the national leadership cowering in Manila.

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MALAYSIAN HAND: Retired air force officer Antonio Mariano said that ARMM residents are worried about Seguis’s and MILF chief negotiator Muhaquer Iqbal’s saying the MoA on ancestral domain is an “initialed, but still unsigned document,” in a statement they signed in Kuala Lumpur late July.

Why in Kula Lumpur? Because the Philippine government has accepted Malaysia as a mediator despite the well-known fact that KL is partial to any Moro band that keeps the Manila government off-balance.

Hadji Udtog Kawit, a public school teacher of 40 years, said the government and MILF peace panels should focus on the plight of people displaced by recent hostilities.

The big question is why the Arroyo administration refuses to listen to the Muslim population and their democratically elected officials — and instead embraces and clasps the bloody hands of Moro secessionist.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 20, 2009)

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